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25.8.06

"Atheist On One More God," Take 2

Since Alon Levy is unconvinced by my previous post, let me try explaining it from another angle. What I'm arguing is that, contrary to Shermer's claim that he's just an atheist with respect to one more god than a religious person, there is a difference between atheists' disbelief in religion and religious people's disbelief in other religions. A Christian's rejection of Odin is different from an atheist's rejection of Odin.

A Christian disbelieves in Odin because he or she believes in Jesus instead. Insofar as a Christian actually takes the time to consider whether the Eddas might have some truth to them, he or she doesn't consider Odin independently on his own merits. He or she rejects Odin in favor of a presumedly superior view of the divine. And insofar as a Christian never bothers to give any thought to whether Odin exists, it's because he or she already holds a satisfactory view of the divine which rules out the possibility of other gods existing. To a religious person, "faith in a higher power" is a hole in a person's life that must be filled by something. An atheist, on the other hand, obviously has nothing to put in the "instead of" construction. An atheist will simply reject Odin full stop.

This way of understanding one religion's rejection of another explains, I think, why religious people are so often insistent that various beliefs held by atheists (most notably "Darwinism") are actually religions. The religious person understands rejecting a religion as a process tied up in acceptance of a different religion, an "instead of" decision. So they assume that the atheist who rejects all known religions must be doing so in favor of some other belief that is functionally equivalent to a religion. Rejecting all faith in a higher power is alien to a religious person in a way that choosing one higher power over another is not. So there's a temptation to incorrectly read "faith in a higher power" into an atheist's belief system.

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